Ken Starr, Independent Counsel In Clinton Investigation, Dies At 76

Independent counsel Ken Starr passed away on Tuesday at a Houston hospital. Starr’s investigation into a White House sex scandal shocked the country and ultimately led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice. He was 76.

His wife, Alice Starr, said he passed away from complications following surgery after spending the previous 17 weeks at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center for treatment of an unknown illness.

Ken Starr Passed Away From Complications Following Surgery

Mr. Starr became well-known after he led the investigation into President Clinton’s alleged affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, a former White House intern. The scandal dominated American politics and culture for over a year.

To his supporters, he was a hero for standing up to an indecent president who they believed had despoiled the Oval Office, while his detractors saw him as a sex-obsessed Inspector Javert motivated by partisanship. He damaged Mr. Clinton’s and his own legacies with his investigation, which led to the first presidential impeachment in 130 years.

In 2020, he returned to the spotlight as a lawyer for President Donald J. Trump in his first Senate trial, where he denounced impeachment as a weapon in partisan wars and took the other side of the argument. He told the Senate, “Like war, impeachment is hell,” during the impeachment trial that ended in acquittal, just as Mr. Clinton’s trial had 21 years earlier.  “Impeachment of a president, at the very least, is a terrible experience.”

Mr. Starr knew this better than anyone because his career ascent in the conservative legal world was abruptly derailed by his involvement in the sex, lies, and tapes surrounding the presidency. Before becoming a lightning rod during the Clinton investigation, Mr. Starr served as a widely respected appeals court judge and solicitor general.

ken starr death
ken starr death

The investigation into the university’s handling of sexual assault allegations against football players led to his demotion and eventual resignation as president of Baylor University, after which he became dean of the law school at California’s Pepperdine University. The College administration was criticized by the investigators for “creating a perception that football was above the rules.”

Mr. Starr also came under fire for defending billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, who had been accused of sex crimes against minors in Florida but who ultimately negotiated a plea deal in which he admitted to lesser charges in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Mrs. Starr wrote about her late husband in an email she sent to coworkers and friends of the family on Tuesday, describing him as “brilliant, kind, and loving” and saying that he “did not have a mean bone in his body” and was friends with everyone he met.

“Ever since law school, he was determined to fight for the rule of law, and he labored tirelessly to provide equal justice and religious freedom around the world,” she wrote. “Ken felt compelled to always respond to the call to serve his country, even when it meant enduring harsh criticism for his service. He was courageous and determined to work for a fair and just outcome no matter the task, and he never responded in kind to hurtful libel or slander.”

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh worked for Mr. Starr in the independent counsel’s office, and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. served under him in the Reagan administration.

On Tuesday, they both released statements expressing their sorrow over his passing. Chief Justice Roberts remarked, “Ken loved our country and served it with dedication and distinction.  In the courtroom, in government, and in the community, he was a model leader.”

One of his most famous rulings was a 7-to-1 decision dismissing a libel suit filed by William Tavoulareas, president of Mobil Oil, against The Washington Post. Attorney David E. Kendall, who later defended Bill Clinton and butted heads with Ken Starr over the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky probes, represented the newspaper.

Mr. Starr resigned to take the position of solicitor general for President George H.W. Bush, also known as the 10th justice. Following Bush’s defeat at the polls at the hands of Clinton, Congress tasked Starr with assessing the diaries of former Oregon Republican senator Bob Packwood, who resigned in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct. As a lawyer, he appeared before the Supreme Court 36 times.

When Mr. Clinton was governor of Arkansas, a three-judge panel appointed Mr. Starr, then a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, to investigate the Whitewater deal. Mr. Starr looked into the firing of White House Travel Office employees, the theft of F.B.I. files on Republican administration officials, and the suicide of White House lawyer and longtime Clinton friend Vincent W. Foster Jr.

While he was successful in prosecuting many people associated with the Clintons—including Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker, who succeeded Bill Clinton as governor—he never brought charges against the Clintons themselves. It was his opinion that Mrs. Clinton had lied to investigators, and his office did draft an indictment, but he ultimately decided against pursuing the case because he believed it would not result in a conviction.

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